What are pre-exhaust sets?

Pre-exhaust sets are exercise sets used to tire out the muscle that you wish to work on before you get into your heavy-lifting sets. This would normally be an isolation movement before a compound movement.

If you are not familiar with compounds and isolation’s, then let me give you a very simplified definition:

A compound movement is a movement that uses more than one joint function, e.g. squat, bench press, military press, etc. Some would call these “strength-building” movements.

An isolation movement, on the other hand, is an exercise that uses only one joint movement; such as flyes, lateral raises, leg extensions, etc.


An Example Of Pre-Exhaust Sets

A good example of a pre-exhaust set would fit the following illustration:

Say it was leg day, I would go to the gym (apparently really happily and would probably get there early… because it was leg day). I would do my leg extensions before I would do my squats or leg press.

Now, you would probably be thinking, “Yeah, but by the time you get to do your squats, you won’t be able to lift as much because your legs are tired.”

Yep, that’s exactly the point. I firmly believe that this is a great way to increase your size and strength over time. I have personally seen the benefits of this method. Although I have played around with this type of training, the most effective way that I have found was to train in 8–10 weeks cycles of pre-exhaust sets. I’d always say (with anything new) that you should stick to it for at least 8 – 10 weeks because, then, you know you have given it a fair chance.

By “8 – 10 weeks cycles,” this is what I mean:

Every gym session that you attend (assuming that you are lifting a combination of compound and isolation exercises), you’ll do your isolation’s before your compounds.

For instance:

Chest Day: You get your flyes, cable cross-overs and pec dec done before your chest press, bench presses, etc.

Back Day: You get your pullovers done before your bent over rows.

Leg Day: You do your leg extensions before your leg press, squats, etc.

Shoulder Day: You get your raises done before your shoulder presses, etc.

Arm Day: You get your tricep push downs and kick backs done before your dips, close grip bench press, etc.

Yes, I found that (when training in this way) I was a lot weaker on my presses at first, and it was a lot harder until around the 4th week mark, and then it became the new normal. I could squat the same weight, and for the same amount of reps, that I had been squatting before I started the pre-exhaust sets.


My Experience With Pre-Exhaust Sets

I remember the first time that I did this, I did it for around 10 weeks, and then decided to switch back to compound exercises FIRST for the next 10 weeks.

I remember going into the gym, this time on Shoulder Day. I sat down on the bench with my 20 kg dumbbells and blasted out a very easy set of 12 reps of seated shoulder press, and the dumbbells actually felt light! I changed the dumbbells to the 30 kg, and another easy set of 12 reps followed.

30 kg was the max weight I would reach prior to my 10 weeks of pre-exhaust sets on this exercise. I could now comfortably lift the 40 kg on seated dumbbell shoulder press. Some readers may think that it’s not a such a great achievement but I must add that this was using strict form with full range of movement.

(I was once asked to spot a guy with this weight on the same exercise, and I helped him as he counted 12 reps with less than half the range of movement. He was clearly proud of himself, so I didn’t say anything.)

Anyway, this was a 10 kg increase of weight on this exercise. This, and squats, is where I saw the most improvement in the weight I could lift.

I know that a lot of people will not even try this because, at the beginning of it all, it will appear as if they are much weaker; they will stop and go back to the compounds before isolation’s. This weakness at the beginning is part of the process. It is because you are challenging yourself more that you will get stronger from this method; your body will adapt to this type of training and you will get stronger. It worked very well for me.

Give this a go and see what you think, but remember to use correct form as it may be very tempting to do more cheat reps. If you do try this, remember to keep pushing yourself and give it at least 8 – 10 weeks.

Good luck, and let us know how you get on.

Pre exhaust sets

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